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Is Your Relationship in a Roommate Rut?

Your conversations now focus on bills, the kids and work. 7 steps to take if the sizzle has fizzled.

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illustration, woman and man, in bed, arguing over money
Alyah Holmes
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What do you and your boo do to keep things spicy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

The last thing anyone in a marriage or long-term relationship wants is to end up as roomies with their partner. But it happens.

What was once hot and heavy, filled with constant togetherness and deep discussions has somehow turned into what feels like two ships passing in the night. Your conversations now focus on bills, the kids and work updates. You spend time doing your own thing. Your spouse does the same. Even when you’re together in the same room, there’s emotional distance. And the steamy sex from early on? Gone.

If any of that sounds familiar, you’re probably experiencing what’s known as roommate syndrome.

What is roommate syndrome?

The roommate syndrome occurs when the relationship between a couple feels more like roommates rather than lovers. So mostly platonic instead of romantic.

Unfortunately, this is very common with long-term relationships and can happen when people get caught up in daily life and stop prioritizing communication and intimacy in their relationship, says Nikquan Lewis, a licensed marriage and family therapist and sex therapist at Intimate Connections in Katy, Texas. “It gets down to just having a mundane relationship and focusing more so on life lifing than the responsibilities of the relationship,” she says.

And let’s not get it twisted. We’re talking mundane as in passionless, routine, uninteresting — stuff we don’t want in a relationship.

How to prevent or recover from roommate syndrome

Date your mate. Whether you’ve been together for two or twenty years, prioritize regular date nights. Research from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia found that couples who spend one-on-one time together at least once a week report greater levels of happiness, commitment and sexual satisfaction in their relationships than those who spend less quality time with their partner.

Dates don’t have to be extravagant or expensive. Lewis says, “It’s simply about protecting that time and prioritizing the connection.” So, a “date” could be a lantern-lit dinner in the backyard, a weekend matinee or chilling on the patio with drinks.

Talk, as in really talk. Go beyond the everyday chitchat “Talking about what brings you joy, pleasure, your dreams, interests, shared hobbies, this is what fosters meaningful connections and consistent intimacy,” says Lewis. Ask thought-provoking questions. Talk about your wants, needs and expectations. Crack jokes, laugh, flirt.

Replay those earlier days. “A lot of times, we have life experiences and forget what made us get in the relationship with the person in the first place,” says Gail Crowder, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed sexologist in Baltimore, Maryland. Recall what brought you together, reminisce and recreate those moments, she says. What made you and your honey feel close? What activities were fun and exciting in the earlier stages of the relationship? Do them now!

Reignite your own flame. Don’t lose yourself in your relationship. “You can have the me inside of the we,” says Dr. Crowder. Spend time with your family and friends; pursue your own hobbies and interests; have me time. Besides benefitting your personal growth, maintaining your individuality helps keep the relationship interesting. How? You and your partner won’t be in each other’s face 24/7. And you’ll actually have something to talk about when you are together.

Keep sex sexy. Spice it up! And, no, that doesn’t have to mean gravity-defying positions or doing anything outside your comfort level. “When you keep it sexy, it means that you keep it fun,” says Dr. Crowder. Think lingerie, role-playing, chocolate-dipped fruit to nibble, toys, whatever gets things jumping.

Lewis recommends being open about what you enjoy, your desires and your fantasies. Also, put intimacy on your calendar (well, not really, but really). Although most people balk at the thought of scheduling sex, it’s about prioritizing it so that it happens, says Lewis. Plus: “Just because you know you’re going to have sex with your partner on Wednesday doesn’t mean it can’t be as spontaneous and fun as you want it to be,” she says. Or that you can’t do it again on Thursday.

Affirm each other. Lewis says don’t focus only on the negatives in your relationship; acknowledge what’s right about it. Give your spouse an out-the-blue compliment. Say thanks for something you usually take for granted. Expressing appreciation can strengthen your bond.

If necessary, call in a pro. Dr. Crowder recommends contacting a professional if your relationship can’t bounce back from the roommate space. Sessions with a therapist or counselor may help rekindle the fire.

However, both of you must be all in for it to be successful, she says. If you’re the only one trying (or who even wants to try), that might be a sign to reevaluate the relationship.

What do you and your boo do to keep things spicy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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